Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper talks about Amendment 64 at the State Capitol in 2012. (Denver Post file)

Feds could learn a lot from Hickenlooper’s reasonable, moderate approach to marijuana legalization

The Denver Post opinion pages solicited commentary from various marijuana policy and industry leaders, as well as the public, for a special cannabis-themed edition of the Sunday Perspective section the weekend before 4/20. The Cannabist is presenting these op-eds throughout the week.

Earlier this month, Gov. John Hickenlooper joined governors from other states that have legalized cannabis consumption — both for medical use and just for fun — in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Extending an olive branch, the governors reasonably ask the Trump Cabinet members to “engage with us before embarking on any changes to regulatory and enforcement systems.”

The letter asks for a continuation of the status quo as practiced by the Obama administration, and we completely agree. Overall, as we have argued many times in our pages, the legalization experiment has been a success. Gone are the bad old days of filling jails and prisons with users of a drug that’s shown again and again to be safer than alcohol.

Hickenlooper’s collaboration with his peers should matter to Sessions and Mnuchin, and not simply because he is the governor of the first state to open its doors to legal recreational cannabis sales. The former businessman certainly cannot be called a stooge for the weed industry. Hickenlooper was against the voter-approved Amendment 64 that legalized recreational sales here, and he maintains an arms-length approach to the experiment.

At the governor’s behest this week, lawmakers gutted a bill that would have paved the way for bring-your-own marijuana social clubs. Hickenlooper is expected to soon sign two other anti-marijuana bills: one will crack down on Colorado’s gray market by prohibiting co-op grows that allow cultivators to collectively grow their allotted plants; the second sets a strict limit on how many plants can be grown in residential areas.

When asked about his stance on expanded legalization by The Cannabist’s Alicia Wallace last month, Hickenlooper noted he tells other governors considering the change, that “they should wait a year or two, maybe three years. Get more data and make sure there aren’t unintended consequences. I don’t think there needs to be any rush towards a sudden nationwide transformation. Let’s make sure we get it right first.”

Hardly the words or actions of a pot zealot white-knuckling the armchair with fears of the feds.

And yet, Hickenlooper notes in the same interview that Colorado has not seen a spike in teen use, nor has it seen a big increase in people’s consumption of cannabis. The black market has largely been tamed here, though there are admittedly some lingering problems on that front: problems that would of course mushroom under at Trump administration crackdown. The state operates a robust regulatory framework that makes sure the product people are buying is safe. Tax revenue has benefited the state also.

“I’d say that the experiment — as it continues to move forward — has gone better certainly than I anticipated and I think certainly better than many people anticipated,” Hickenlooper said.

But the governor holds out no hope that a reversal of Obama’s policies in a state that now has a flourishing cannabis industry would unfold without great mishap. Lawmakers are working on getting an in-case-of-crackdown bill to the governor’s desk. It would allow recreational cultivators to transfer their plants to the medical side to avoid federal confiscation.

President Trump said on the campaign trail that legal-weed states should be left alone. It’s been truly odd seeing him allow Sessions to send jitters through the legal marketplace.

Trump, Sessions and Mnuchin should answer the governors’ letter quickly, and with kindness, as Hickenlooper appears to be on their side most of the time with his reasonable, moderate approach.

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